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Fueling your Body with Proper Food for Dance

Updated: 5 days ago


Insight from Dr. Brenda Villecco, DC, MSACN!




Whether you’re a competitive dancer or just enjoy taking the occasional dance class after work or school, proper fueling is for you. A good diet, proper hydration and adequate recovery are key when it comes to looking, feeling and performing your best, both on and off the dance floor.


So what is considered a good diet?

A proper diet is mostly composed of whole food sources. What are considered whole foods? Whole foods include fruits, vegetables, beef, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, yogurt, butter, cheese, milk and whole grains. Your daily food consumption should include a variety of colors - red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple - you should be eating the rainbow! The more variety of colors you get in your diet, the better. (not food dyes!)


So how do you know if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet? If you are building proper meals, you should feel comfortably full, have energy and feel light (not sluggish, gassy or bloated). You shouldn’t feel tired or have headaches after eating. You also should not feel the need to snack between meals (exception: you are VERY active and burning a ton of calories - hint: student athletes).


When building your plate, it should be composed mainly of vegetables, have about a palm-sized serving of protein (meat, fish, eggs, beans, legumes, etc.), and have some healthy fats (olive oil, avocado oil, avocados, nuts, seeds - meat, fish and eggs also have healthy fats!)


Now let’s talk about food and dance. I grew up dancing competitively, and I’d see so many dancers eating things like sour patch kids, gummy bears or gushers between dance performances. There is a common belief that having bursts of sugar before an athletic event helps with your energy during the event. While the science behind the thought is there, the source of sugar should be chosen carefully. Highly processed "food" with artificial sugars are not what you want to rely on to fuel you for your routines and performances. If you want a “quick burst of energy” for a performance, try eating an apple or a banana, not sour patch kids. Dancers are often on the go, so they usually eat shelf stable, packaged snacks that are not supporting optimal health or performance. So how can we optimize better eating while on the road? I’m glad you asked…


Let’s talk about fueling on a competition day:

I don’t know about you, but my diet is vastly different on a performance day than it is on a normal day. Why is that? Making sure your stomach feels okay and preventing cramps the day of competition is key. Keeping things simple, somewhat bland, and reliable is the way to go. We are also often on the road during competitions, so we are slightly limited to what we can bring.




Morning of Competition:

Whole food sources of protein, fat and carbohydrates that you know you can stomach before a day of nerves and exertion. 

Examples:

  1. Eggs, Ezekiel toast, berries

  2. Rice cakes, peanut butter, berries

  3. Eggs, potatoes, banana

  4. Plain greek yogurt, protein powder, berries, granola

  5. Oatmeal with protein powder, peanut butter and berries

  6. Protein smoothie with nut butter or yogurt, fruit and coconut water

  7. Veggie omelet with a side of fruit

  8. Egg burrito on an almond flour tortilla with veggies and feta cheese

  9. Simple Mills almond flour pancakes with eggs


About 1.5-2 hours before first dance:

Whole food sources of protein, fat and carbohydrates that you know you can stomach right before intense exertion.

Examples:1. Peanut butter and banana sandwich on Ezekiel or gluten free bread (my personal go to on competition days)

2. Organic/nitrate free deli meat sandwich on Ezekiel bread with mustard

3. Tuna or chicken salad sandwich on Ezekiel or gluten free bread

3. Rice cakes with peanut butter and berries or banana


Snacks as needed throughout competition:

Light foods that don’t bog you down or make you feel bloated.

Examples:

  1. Fruit: apple, banana, grapes, berries

  2. Nuts: almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, etc.

  3. Homemade trail mix (homemade ensures it’s not loaded with sugar)

  4. Healthy packaged snacks from brands such as: Simple Mills, Paleovalley, Siete

  5. No bake protein balls/bars (find recipes on sites like eatingbirdfood.com and fitfoodiefinds.com)

  6. Celery, carrots and hummus


After the competition:

FUEL! This is your time to not hold back. Your routine is over, the nerves are gone, and you’re hungry!

After the competition is over, make sure to eat a variety of vegetables, good sources of protein like meat, fish or beans and strive for sources of healthy fat, such as avocados, olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, meat, fish, seeds, etc. Here is your window to get your fiber in as well.

Try to avoid going for fast food after your competition. I know you’ll be ravenous and I know it will sound tempting, but it will not support proper muscle recovery nor fulfill your nutrient needs post sport.


Now that we talked about competition day, let’s lay out a normal day; maybe one where you’re at the studio for a couple of hours in a row.


Eating while off the stage

You’re at practice, you’re not in costume and you have a long day ahead of you. How do we stay healthy while being away from home all day?


Some of my go to items for packing food are:

Insulated lunch box/soft cooler (use ice packs to ensure freshness)

Thermos

Reusable utensils

Protein shaker bottles


How and when do we use these?


Insulated lunch box:

Pack foods like sandwiches, vegetables, fruit, hummus, yogurt, protein drinks, no bake protein balls, etc. in here


Thermos:

Use this to bring a hot meal to the studio and ensure it stays warm and fresh. Examples include soup, chili, stew, a stirfry, pasta, etc.


Protein shaker bottle:

One of the easiest ways to bring a protein rich snack is to put protein powder in a shaker bottle and just add water once you’re ready to drink it!


What About Liquids?

Let’s keep it simple…

Coffee: try to limit to one cup per day, and nothing past 12 pm: caffeine in the afternoon can inhibit proper sleep

Energy drinks: avoid them completely; they are full of harmful ingredients and are loaded with caffeine

Soda: avoid it completely; full of harmful ingredients and contain caffeine 

Water: try to get in at least 8-10, 8 oz. glasses daily; add electrolytes to one serving daily, especially during or after sport. I like the brand “Lyte Show”.

Tea: naturally decaffeinated herbal tea is fine to have throughout the day; decaffeinated green tea is a great alternative to “midday caffeine” - there is roughly 10 mg of caffeine in it.


Now Let’s Talk About When to Eat

The bottom line is everybody is different: age, gender, weight, activity level, etc. This means that there is no one size fits all dietary pattern to follow. For this reason, we will discuss a generally good guideline that most people can follow successfully.


  1. Don’t drink coffee on an empty stomach - if you want to have coffee first thing in the morning, add in collagen peptides to lower the cortisol spike.

  2. Aim for  at least a 13 hour fast between dinner and breakfast (i.e., if you have dinner at 6 pm, don’t eat breakfast until at least 7 am).

  3. Don’t start your day with just carbohydrates (make sure to have significant sources of protein and fat first thing in the morning).

  4. Before an intense workout, try to consume a combination of carbohydrates, fat and protein.

  5. After a workout, consume a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat within the hour.

  6. Position your “simple carbohydrates” (pasta, rice, bread), either before a workout or immediately after (these aren’t necessary to consume, but are sometimes needed for young athletes to feel satiated). They are better left avoided, but are used situationally.

  7. Aim to have healthier/more nutritious sources of carbohydrates with your meals (complex carbohydrates rather than simple). Examples include: quinoa, sweet potatoes and root vegetables.

  8. If you’re not working out at night, you don’t need those high carb foods at night.


The Takeaway…

Healthy eating is whole food eating. Making sure 90% of our diet is coming from whole food sources, with 10% coming from foods not included in this group if desired. Aim to eat semi processed, processed foods and fast food sparingly. When planning your day’s intake of food, aim to have it come mostly from vegetables, then protein (animal or plant sources), then fat. Most of your carbohydrate intake should come from vegetables, fruits and starchy vegetables, with some whole grains sprinkled in (quinoa, buckwheat, millet, oats, wild rice). TIP: “whole grain bread” or “multigrain bread” found on the shelf at the grocery store do not count as whole grains - they are heavily processed and the grains are stripped from their natural form. Eat 2-3 well balanced meals per day, or if you’re very active, add in some smaller meals in between.


Healthy eating is for everyone and sets you up for optimal performance, proper muscle recovery, clear brain function, healthy hormones and a healthy gut. It’s time to optimize your dance performance from the inside out!


This may seem like a lot to process if you're just starting your healthy lifestyle but if you made it to the end of this article, you're headed in the right direction.


For more tips from Brenda, follow her on Instagram @dr.villeco


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